Friday, March 3, 2023

Homemade Soap

Keeping clean is an essential part of maintaining both physical and mental health. I've taken enough bloodborne pathogen and hazmat classes that not being able to wash my hands regularly makes me actively uncomfortable. Any of our readers who have been on an extended camping trip (whether personal or under government contract) know the challenges involved in maintaining an acceptable level of personal hygiene.

There are a number of potential issues in keeping ourselves clean, such as access to a water source, ambient temperature, and privacy. While there's not much we can do about those issues, the one we can address is soap. While readily available in stores and online, making soap at home doesn't have to be complicated or expensive, and is another self-sufficiency skill to be considered.

Soap making uses lye, a caustic chemical that can cause severe burns. Use all appropriate personal protective equipment,  including but not limited to eye protection, long sleeves, and gloves.

Just over a year ago I posted an article on candle making, and some of that same equipment can be repurposed for making soap, specifically a double boiler or crock pot to melt the ingredients safely and a mold to form the soap.

A friend of mine who makes soap uses Pringles cans as one-use molds, with the resulting tube of soap then cut into disks. Any of the variety of silicone baking molds available on the market can be used as well.

A variety of home-made soaps from the author's collection

Make sure that any equipment and utensils used in the soap-making process are never again used for food preparation! Some of the chemical residue isn't good to imbibe, and it will give your food a nasty taste. 

Secondhand stores and yard sales are a very economical source for the necessary equipment.

A basic soap can be made with just three ingredients:

  1. Oil or another fat (olive oil, coconut oil, etc.)
  2. Lye (sodium hydroxide for bar soap, potassium hydroxide for liquid soap)
  3. Water (preferably distilled) or other liquids, such as goat's milk

Optional ingredients include essential oils, colorants, and dried herbs or flowers. 

The type and quantity of oil will affect the amount of lye needed for a recipe. This is a link to a handy lye calculator.

Never use aluminum containers or utensils when working with lye, it can cause a dangerous chemical reaction.

This is the traditional hot process method for making soap. There is also a cold process method that takes longer, but doesn't require constant heat.

  1. Set the mixing vessel to low heat.
  2. Add the oil and cover.
  3. In a separate container, slowly add the lye to the water
    (don't add water to lye, it can splatter).
  4. Gently stir the solution while adding the lye.
  5. Put aside and let the lye solution cool for 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. Check the temperature of the oil(s) using a candy thermometer.
  7. Once they reach 120 to 130F gently pour in the lye to avoid splashing.
  8. Stir slowly (a stick blender on low can also be used).
  9. Continue blending and stirring for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the soap has thickened and looks like pudding.
  10. Cover and cook on low heat for 50 minutes, stirring gently if bubbles form.
  11. Let cool until the mixture drops below 180° F.
  12. If desired, add essential oils and/or colorants and mix well.
  13. Pour the mixture into a mold.
  14. Gently tap the mold to eliminate air bubbles.
  15. If using an open mold, smooth the top with a spatula.
  16. Let sit for at least 24 hours at room temperature.
  17. After cutting, allow the soap to dry for another week.

Soap making, if done responsibly, can be safe and isn't very complicated. It's also good clean fun.


1 comment:

  1. It's also worthwhile to note that while it's all chemistry and science, getting the Lye mixed in properly so you get a decent batch of soap will initially seem like a Black Art.

    You should consider doing this- but you are VERY likely to get a handful of gloopy (And stone hard) oopses as you refine your handiwork with this.


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